The Obsessed are back after 20 years but really, it never felt like they went away. A large part of this can be attributed to the ridiculous amount of great releases featuring the whisky-soaked bootstrapping doom croon of guitarist/vocalist/legend Scott “Wino” Weinrich, whether it be St. Vitus, The Hidden Hand, Spirit Caravan, or his stellar solo material. But an even larger part comes from that “legend” tag, and I don’t place it there lightly. This is a guy upon whose voice and guitar the schools of doom and stoner rock were built. So the bigger question is not how Sacred, The Obsessed’s first album in 20 years holds up, but how it holds up after 20 years of bands and albums that used the band as a template for their own sound.
The biggest mistake The Obsessed could have made on Sacred is to try and capture some of what’s transpired since 1994’s The Church Within in an attempt to “modernize” their particular groove. Thankfully right from the gate the band shows they haven’t learned a damn thing: “Sodden Jackal” is a bruising stomp to the head, Wino’s guitar sounding as ferocious as it ever has, locking in perfectly with new drummer Brian Constantino. The track’s been around forever (you can hear an early version on the Incarnate compilation from 1999) and it works as an opener and a reminder that Wino has more riffs lying around for decades that can loosen gravel than half the bands working today. The fuzzed out opening of “Punk Crusher” has a relentless drive that recalls a crusty Motorhead and shows how the beauty of limiting yourself to one or two really good riffs and letting them drive the song rather than overstuffing with changes. The title track illustrates the same point: there’s never a moment where the band’s influences aren’t worn on their sleeves, influences where songwriting was classic and streamlined to intro, verse, chorus, repeat. And when the scope expands on the epic “On So Long” it hits a psyched out majesty that no one else can touch.
That being said, I have a few quibbles with Sacred. They’re minor to be sure, but they’re there. At 14 tracks and almost an hour in length it feels more than a little long in the tooth, which is odd to say for a band trading in doom/stoner blues riffs. “It’s Only Money” and closer “Crossroader Blues,” (A Think Lizzy and Moutain cover, respectively and thanks to Dave in the comments for pointing it out!) really hit the blue collar hard rock vibe ZZTop (or Thin Lizzy, or Mountain I guess) perfected back in the late 70s and while it’s a blast to hear Wino emulate Billy Gibbon’s (or Leslie West, or Scott Gorham) mannerisms I can take or leave it. Likewise the weird sing/speak on “Stranger Things” doesn’t do much for me, nor the monotonous muted riff that accompanies the verses. There’s also a brief, 28 second interlude called, appropriately, “Interlude” that’s begging to get blown up into a proper Obsessed song, but we only get 28 seconds and as it stands it does nothing.
But those are small quibbles (after all, I really dig the aforementioned bands though at the time of writing this I had no idea they were covers – can’t win ’em all), and when they’re firing on all cylinders (just wait until that solo in the middle of “On So Long”) the songs on Sacred tap into a vein of dark roads, weariness and pain that only comes with a maturity and vision that’s been looking down that endless highway for over 40 years. All hail The Obsessed for they are back. All hail The Obsessed, who never really left.